The Black Flag: Always a Temptation

2016 February 25

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

–HL Mencken

After stumbling across this quote this morning, I was stunned to begin realizing that this encapsulates the current national mood. This single thought accesses what the country is feeling as voters begin selecting the next nominees for President.

Donald Trump, even by his own account, is an authoritarian demagogue determined to return the United States to “greatness” through sheer force of his individual will. He has vaguely diagnosed the ills facing the country, he has offered illusory and ill-informed causes for those ills, and he has committed political malpractice in prescribing the elixirs which will heal the body politic. Also, let us not forget, he has repeatedly countenanced, promoted, and made promises to commit war crimes on behalf of the American People; and they love him for it. Mr. Trump has found that humanity often wants the caretaker, the one who will make everything alright, the one who will protect it from the “other.” This is especially the case in eras of increased uncertainty, radical changes in the world, and periods of disillusionment as to the way things were “supposed to be.” He has sounded the right notes, amorphously categorizing his supporters as his protected and lumping anyone who deigns to disagree with him as the threat dismantling the country.

Bear in mind, Mencken was not talking about individuals like Mr. Trump; no, he was talking about Mr. Trump’s supporters. Those supporters who, for myriad justified and irrational reasons, seek the solutions offered by the strongman. The strongman’s offer is so seductive: not only a solution to the problems and recovery from them, but also a culpable party – some individual or group which can be blamed for the problems in the first place.

What differs from Mencken’s “normal man” and those supporters of Mr. Trump is that his supporters wish someone to raise the black flag on their behalf, rather than doing any of the throat slitting themselves (though, rest assured, there will be plenty of people available for that activity, should Mr. Trump conclude that the return to greatness requires it); they are content with what they claim to hate: leaving the running of the country to its leaders. They are no different from those who have earned their disdain and ire, those other “sheeple” who cast their ballots and expect others to solve the problems facing our nation and world. The difference and the reason that their abdication is acceptable is that, in their view, Mr. Trump will actually solve those problems – in a manner the details of which they would prefer not to know.

So, where does that leave us? In my view, it leaves us with a fear-biting dog leading cowards who will allow crimes to be committed on their behalf, with their approval, but preferably with their ignorance. They hope that Mr. Trump will make the problems go away and they don’t want to know how.

Just days ago, a good friend of mine was casting about trying to grasp to anything which could be seen as hope “that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train.” Unfortunately, he was speaking to me, a cynical rationalist, who was only able to offer the cold comfort that, “sometimes it is, in fact, an oncoming train.”

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